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Film review: 'Baby Driver'

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You know that unique sense of elation you get when you're walking down the street, listening to music, and something clicks and the entire world around you suddenly seems to be moving to the beat of a tune only you can hear? Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver" manages to recreate that feeling, but with high-octane car chases. And it's just as awesome as it sounds.

Riffing on 1970's heist thrillers -- Walter Hill's "The Driver" is a particular inspiration -- "Baby Driver" is the story of a young getaway driver named Baby (that's B-A-B-Y, Baby), played with boyish charm by Ansel Elgort. A car accident as a child left Baby with tinnitus, and he listens to music nearly every waking moment in order to drown out the constant ringing in his ears. It's that music that provides the ever-present soundtrack for the film.

A life of crime seems an odd fit for the sweet-natured Baby, and we learn that years prior he inadvertently stole from a cutthroat crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey in deadpan, menacing mode), and the wheelman job is his way of paying back his debt. But he wants out, and when he meets and immediately becomes smitten with a diner waitress named Debora (Lily James, delightful in a somewhat underwritten role) they make plans to run away and start a new life together.

Baby has one last job before he and Doc call it square, although naturally things don't quite work out that simply. Circumstances conspire to pull him back into the fold, and Baby finds himself in over his head with the unstable trio of criminals -- played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Eiza González -- who round out Doc's current crew.

It's a familiar story, but it's the way it's told that sets "Baby Driver" apart. Wright is one of the most talented directors working today, and you can sense the joy he gets from everything that unfolds on screen. The action sequences are staged with the precision of an elegantly-choreographed dance number -- enough so that more than one review has called the film a stealth musical.

The beautifully rhythmic editing from Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss times every action to the eclectic soundtrack -- loaded with songs from T. Rex, Barry White, and Queen. Every squealing tire, slammed car door, and bullet blast lines up perfectly to the music (sometimes subtlety so), and the technique lends the entire film a propulsive pop beat. Admittedly, the editing style does feel like a bit of a disservice to the sometimes jaw-dropping practical stunt driving being done, but more often the synthesis of action, performance, music, and editing leaves you feeling giddy.

This is Wright's least overtly comedic film, though there are moments of goofy humor, and Baby's relationship with his deaf foster father (NTID alum CJ Jones), along with his swoony romance with Debora, taps into Wright's sweet emotional sincerity. Still, this is an Edgar Wright film, so there's also quite a bit of his trademark bursts of violence and precisely deployed gore.

"Baby Driver" supposedly came from an idea that's been rolling around in Wright's brain for 20-plus years, and even if it doesn't feel as personal to Wright as his Cornetto Trilogy, much like those affectionate takes on buddy-cop action flicks, science-fiction thrillers, or zombie horror, Wright makes it all feel distinctly his own. "Baby Driver" may be purely an exercise in style, but with Wright behind the wheel, you can be confident he's made sure to pack a little something extra under the hood.

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